Why King County Went Hybrid

King County, Washington made the decision to “go hybrid” because hybrid vehicles mean lower CO2 emissions, greater overall fuel economy, and lower maintenance costs. But the county also conserved fuel and money, and achieved a number of other objectives that serve community and national interests.

Conserving Fuel and Money

A government must answer to taxpayers who are the most important critics of public expenditures. In their analysis of the economic benefits of converting to a hybrid fleet, King County Fleet Division found that the life cycle cost of a hybrid vehicle, from purchase to resale, would offset the higher purchase price. Cost savings are the result of several factors:

  • Overall fuel economy. When gas prices were as low as $2.25, the Toyota Prius was expected to have a life cycle cost comparable to the life cycle cost of an all-purpose midsized vehicle. When gas prices surpass $3.00 a gallon, the comparable life cycle cost of a Toyota Prius is much lower than its counterparts.
  • Low maintenance cost. Hybrids are expected to reduce some maintenance costs in brake replacement, fewer oil changes, and fewer routine scheduled maintenance. Extended maintenance schedules result from the utilization of electricity at low speeds and at stops, which means less wear and tear on the engine and gas components. Initial projections indicate that maintenance intervals might be extended as much as 10 to 13 percent in some designs.
  • Higher resale value. In a comparison of the suggested retail values of Honda Civics for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, the Civic Hybrid models have a resale value of a third more than their conventional counterparts. [Kelley Blue Book for 2003, 2004, and 2005].

King County concluded that hybrids make good old-fashioned business sense.

Protecting the Environment

King County, under the leadership of Executive Ron Sims, adopted strict clean air policies and targets. As part of these initiatives, King County Fleet Division purchased 136 hybrid vehicles, making the King County one of the largest purchasers of hybrid technology. By including hybrids in their fleet, they have reduced emissions of the gases that contribute to climate change. On average, they save 47 tons of CO2 emissions per vehicle compared to conventional vehicle counterparts. For the current King County fleet, that means a savings of over 6,500 tons of CO2 each year.

In the King County geographical boundary, approximately 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicle exhaust. High rates of CO2 releases are known to contribute to climate change, so switching to hybrids is an effective way to support a livable environment for future generations. These efforts have earned King County the Enviro Star Award—5 Star Rating, the highest rating given to businesses and agencies to recognize their commitments to prevent pollution and reduce hazardous waste.

Protecting Public Health

In addition to safeguarding the future, King County’s conversion to a hybrid fleet fulfills their commitment to present-day residents. They reduced harmful pollutants in the air and improve public health. The particulate matter, non-methane organic gases, and volatile organic compounds found in tailpipe exhaust are a primary source of air pollution. By converting our fleet to hybrids, they reduced King County’s tailpipe emissions and create a better, healthier existence for our residents. These kinds of initiatives help earn King County the Clean Air Recognition Award from the American Lung Association.

Safeguarding National Interests

Many people in the United States are realizing the important role that local governments have in protecting our national interests, especially in an increasingly unpredictable global context. Washington State spends over $26 million every day on oil imports from the Middle East. That is a total of over $9.6 billion lost from the state economy every year. Nationally, the numbers are even more disturbing. Last year, $250 billion left the U.S. economy for the direct purchase of foreign oil. That number is expected to rise to $300 billion in 2006.

For a host of reasons, the problem of national dependence on foreign oil is unsettling. Nevertheless, it is solvable. King County and other local governments—through the policies that they develop and implement—are helping to create a shift in consumer demand toward fuel-efficient alternative-energy vehicles. Local policies that call for the use of hybrid vehicles have the potential to evoke a similar citizen response. And from a community-level movement, the very real possibility exists for widespread use of hybrid technology and a dramatic reduction in our nation’s dependence on petroleum. Some of the billions exported annually to purchase foreign oil will remain in the United States to produce jobs, promote domestic products, and enhance the overall quality of life for Americans.

Becoming a Leader Among Local Governments

All these factors established King County as an influential government entity and an innovator in municipal energy use and environmental protection. Currently, the county is the lead agency for the National Consortium for Hybrid Vehicles, a group of public agencies committed to procuring hybrid electric vehicles.

While King County’s efforts will help advance the state of the region, its actions combined with those of other cities and counties may have a significant impact on the overall state of the country. If other cities and counties follow King County’s lead, local governments have the power to influence the market. With an increased demand for hybrid vehicles, manufacturers will produce the supply to meet that demand. Local governments can create national and global movements to become green, to ensure economic viability, and to protect the environment for generations to come.

Learn about how King County went hybrid.